Candidates swing through Austin

Published 7:40 am Thursday, August 12, 2010

United States Congressman, First District, Democrat Tim Walz takes a look at equipment in the Protein Crystallography Lab during a tour of the Hormel Institute Wednesday afternoon. --Eric Johnson/

Two politicians vying to be Minnesota’s First District congressman were both in Austin Wednesday, but the two made quite different stops.

Tim Walz, the Democratic incumbent, visited the high-tech Hormel Institute, while Republican challenger Randy Demmer took a more rural approach, stopping by for Day 2 of the Mower County Fair.

However, both said their campaigns were going well so far, and each sounded confident in their chances to win come Nov. 2.

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A techie tour

Walz came to Austin Wednesday afternoon to see an institute that he said he’s been proud to support the last three years while he’s been in Congress.

“Sometimes people in the state just don’t realize what you’re standing on here,” he said to a crowd of area leaders, including the mayor and local legislators, who accompanied Walz on his tour.

That tour included a 3D look through a cell, which required 3D glasses be worn by all participants. Next, Walz and crew saw the Blue Gene supercomputer, which is one of the world’s fastest computers and also happens to be stored in a cooled room at the institute.

After seeing a few more pieces of cutting-edge technology, Walz said he was once again blown away by the work being done at the institute.

“I should never be surprised (when I come here),” he said, “but I’m always in awe.”

During the visit, Walz was presented a trophy for being a “hero” in the fight against cancer, as institute staff commended him for securing roughly $2 million in federal funds in the last few years.

Walz said he was humbled by the honor, adding that he was only a small part of the good work in Austin.

“I stand on some very large shoulders,” the congressman said.

However, Walz said he realizes he can play an important role in creating more high-quality jobs like those at the institute, and he said that would be his main thrust in Congress if re-elected.

“We need to recognize we’re on the dawn of a new economy,” Walz said, a reference to jobs in relatively new fields such as bio-science and green energy.

As far as the campaign goes, Walz said his work as congressman will speak louder than any speech he gives. He added that his stop at the Hormel Institute was more about him doing his job as an elected official than fishing for votes.

When November rolls around, Walz said he wants people to look at the work he’s done when casting their ballots.

“I think I’m doing the job the people wanted me to do,” he said. “The public will decide. They’ll do a job evaluation in November.”

Meeting folks at the fair

At about the same time that Walz was arriving at the Hormel Institute, Demmer was strolling into a much-less high-tech Plaeger Building at the Mower

Minnesota First District congressional Republican challenger Randy Demmer talks to a woman from a neighboring stall in the Plaeger Building Wednesday. Demmer is running against Democratic incumbent Tim Walz.

County Fairgrounds.

The state representative from District 29A said he was simply looking to meet people Wednesday, both to hear their ideas and stories and to show them his face.

“As a person running for an elected position, you want to get out there and meet people,” Demmer said.

And to Demmer, that means meeting all sorts of people — including those who agree with his politics and those who don’t. When it comes to those who don’t, Demmer said he always looks for a healthy, productive debate, which he said he usually gets because of “Minnesota nice.”

After about an hour in the sweltering heat at the fair, Demmer said he felt he was being received very well by citizens, and he said he feels good heading toward the general election on Nov. 2.

“The sense I have is that (the campaign) is going very well,” he said.

Like Walz, Demmer said job creation is likely the top issue this fall. However, he said he differed somewhat from the congressman on how to get there — Demmer said keeping a stable tax level on businesses, and working to reduce debt, will be the key to job growth.

On a larger scale, Demmer said Walz and other Democrats are heading toward a system of “bigger government” and increased debt. The challenger said the rise in Tea Party gatherings is a sign that a lot of people have had enough.

As the November election rolls around, Demmer said he’s positioning himself as someone who will work to reduce the size of government and debt.

“People are understanding they have a clear decision to make,” Demmer said of the general election. “They’re saying, ‘Wait a second, we need some fiscal sanity back in place.’”